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American Wit and Humor
How they ever made a deacon out of Jerry Marble I never could imagine! His was the kindest heart that ever bubbled and ran over. He was elastic, tough, incessantly active, and a prodigious worker. He seemed never to tire, but after the longest day’s toil he sprang up, the moment he had done with work, as if he were a fine steel spring. A few hours’ sleep sufficed him, and he saw the morning stars the year round. His weazened face was leather color, but forever dimpling and changing to keep some sort of congruity between itself and his eyes, that winked and blinked and spilled over with merry good nature. He always seemed afflicted when obliged to be sober. He had been known to laugh in meeting on several occasions, although he ran his face behind his handkerchief, and coughed, as if that was the matter, yet nobody believed it. Once, on a hot summer day, he saw Deacon Trowbridge, a sober and fat man, of great sobriety, gradually ascending from the bodily state into that spiritual condition called sleep. He was blameless of the act. He had struggled against the temptation with the whole virtue of a deacon. He had eaten two or three heads of fennel in vain, and a piece of orange-peel. He had stirred himself up, and fixed his eyes on the minister with intense firmness, only to have them grow gradually narrower and milder. If he held his head up firmly, it would with a sudden lapse fall away over backward. If he leaned it a little forward, it would drop suddenly into his bosom. At each nod, recovering himself, he would nod again, with his 275 eyes wide open, to impress upon the boys that he did it on purpose both times.
In what other painful event of life has a good man so little sympathy as when overcome with sleep in meeting time? Against the insidious seduction he arrays every conceivable resistance. He stands up awhile; he pinches himself, or pricks himself with pins. He looks up helplessly to the pulpit as if some succor might come thence. He crosses his legs uncomfortably, and attempts to recite the catechism or the multiplication table. He seizes a languid fan, which treacherously leaves him in a calm. He tries to reason, to notice the phenomena. Oh, that one could carry his pew to bed with him! What tossing wakefulness there! what fiery chase after somnolency! In his lawful bed a man cannot sleep, and in his pew he cannot keep awake! Happy man who does not sleep in church! Deacon Trowbridge was not that man. Deacon Marble was!
Deacon Marble witnessed the conflict we have sketched above, and when good Mr. Trowbridge gave his next lurch, recovering himself with a snort, and then drew out a red handkerchief and blew his nose with a loud imitation, as if to let the boys know that he had not been asleep, poor Deacon Marble was brought to a sore strait. But I have reason to think that he would have weathered the stress if it had not been for a sweet-faced little boy in the front of the gallery. The lad had been innocently watching the same scene, and at its climax laughed out loud, with a frank and musical explosion, and then suddenly disappeared backward into his mother’s lap. That laugh was just too much, and Deacon Marble could no more help laughing than could Deacon Trowbridge help sleeping. Nor could he conceal it. Though he coughed and put up his handkerchief and hemmed — it was a laugh — Deacon! — and 276 every boy in the house knew it, and liked you the better for it — so inexperienced were they.
He was a curious trout. I believe he knew Sunday just as well as Deacon Marble did. At any rate, the deacon thought the trout meant to aggravate him. The deacon, you know, is a little waggish. He often tells about that trout. Says he: “One Sunday morning, just as I got along by the willows, I heard an awful splash, and not ten feet from shore I saw the trout, as long as my arm, just curving over like a bow and going down with something for breakfast. Gracious! says I, and I almost jumped out of the wagon. But my wife Polly says she, ‘What on airth are you thinkin’ of, deacon? It’s Sabbath day, and you’re goin’ to meetin’! It’s a pretty business for a deacon!’ That sort o’ cooled me off. But I do say that, for about a minute, I wished I wasn’t a deacon. But ’twouldn’t make any difference, for I came down next day to mill on purpose, and I came down once or twice more, and nothin’ was to be seen, tho’ I tried with the most temptin’ things. Wal, next Sunday I came along agin, and to save my life I couldn’t’ keep off worldly and wanderin’ thoughts. I tried to be sayin’ my catechism, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off the pond as we came up to the willows. I’d got along in the catechism, as smooth as the road, to the Fourth Commandment, and was sayin’ it out loud for Polly, and jist as I was sayin’: ‘What is required in the Fourth Commandment?’ I heard a splash, and there was the trout, and, afore I could think, I said: ‘Gracious, Polly, I must have that trout.’ She 277 almost riz right up, ‘I knew you wa’n’t sayin’ your catechism hearty. Is this the way you answer the question about keepin’ the Lord’s day? I’m ashamed, Deacon Marble,’ says she. ‘You’d better change your road, and go to meetin’ on the road over the hill. If I was a deacon, I wouldn’t let a fish’s tail whisk the whole catechism out of my head;’ and I had to go to meetin’ on the hill road all the rest of the summer.”
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